After a seven-year hiatus and some delays, the world’s first modern family returns in The Croods: A New Age—a DreamWorks sequel as irreverent as it is bright and colorful. In place of Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMarco, director Joel Crawford takes over with the screenwriting quartet of Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan. With so much time between films and new creatives taking the helm, how does the long-awaited continuation hold up?
Picking up immediately where the first movie left off, The Croods: A New Age sees the pack searching for a new home in the fabled “tomorrow.” Their quest brings them face to face with a new, evolved family called the Bettermans, whose ideals directly contrast those of the Croods—to hilarious results.
The ensemble cast of the original film returns, and they don’t miss a beat. Grug (Nicholas Cage) remains one of the best characters in Dreamworks’ catalog. Sympathetic by virtue of his adherence to kinship but with a cantankerous spirit that leaves plenty of room for both comedy and drama. Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) spend the bulk of the movie navigating a “teenage romance” that subverts some of the eye-rolling cliches you’d expect from the genre. On the supporting end of the Croods clan, Gran (Cloris Leachman) remains a scene-stealer, with a backstory that leads to a hilariously manic climax. The once-docile Ugga (Catherine Keener) returns as a dynamic figurehead with a proactive role in the story—a vast improvement on what was essentially the stock “supportive mom” character in the first film. Thunk (Clarke Duke) and Sandy (Randy Thom) receive little in the way of development, but they remain integral to the humor and heart of the overall experience.
Newcomers Paul Betterman (Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (Leslie Mann) border on abhorrent but are so wonderfully performed that I lit up whenever they were onscreen. Lastly, there’s the Bettermans’s daughter, Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). As far as I’m concerned, Dawn is the breakout star of the movie. Her sunny, gregarious deposition adds a warmth that is hardly present anywhere else (more on that later). Whereas the rest of the cast were great for laughs, Dawn struck a balance between hilarious and genuinely sympathetic that was reminiscent of the first film’s best qualities.
Keeping with the original, The Croods: A New Age is a visual marvel. The soft, pleasingly disproportionate style of Chris Sanders is ever apparent here, making for an aesthetic that separates itself from other mainstream animations. Even Sanders’s own How to Train Your Dragon looks and feels remarkably different from what’s on display here. The character animation benefits greatly from the broader designs. The animators need not concern themselves with capturing realism. Rather, attention can be directed to squash-and-stretch, and other techniques that breathe life into the characters. All the same, the environments are filled with a vibrancy that accentuates every minute texture and detail on display throughout.
For all its splendor, The Croods: A New Age never lives up to its predecessor. While the world-building bleeds imagination, its story does the opposite. It’s the standard “two worlds that don’t understand each other” motif that has been a fixture in animation for decades. You know where the story is going the second the Croods meet the Bettermans. There’s another boringly familiar subplot involving the struggles of change and separation. This has been a recurring theme in mainstream animation throughout the last few years—Ralph Breaks the Internet, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and Frozen 2 are a few examples. That The Croods: A New Age never takes itself seriously mediates these blemishes to a degree, but they are blemishes nonetheless.
More egregiously, the tonal shift between movies. Comedy was a key component in the first Croods, but directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMarco diligently humanized their characters by incorporating moments of genuine suspense, atmosphere, and heart. The Croods: A New Age, on the other hand, is little more than a comedy show. Virtually every second of this movie is tied to a joke. Whenver there’s a glimpse of depth, it is immediately capsized by yet another gag. A heavier emphasis on comedy doesn’t make A New Age a bad film. In fact, that nearly every joke lands is an accomplishment deserving of praise. Be that as it may, the original Croods established a franchise that balanced nuanced and poignancy alongside its outlandish humor. So to have a successor that focuses soley on laughs comes off as a disappointing missed opportunity.
The Croods: A New Age is less concerned with presenting a compelling narrative and more so on having fun with its world and characters. While this is a downgrade from the work done in its predecessor, it accomplishes its intended goal in spades. At its core, The Croods: A New Age is a thoroughly entertaining romp that provides some much-needed levity in 2020.
The Croods: A New Age hits theaters November 25, 2020.
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Edited by: Kelly Conley